Activists held a vigil at the New York City AIDS...

 Activists held a vigil at the New York City AIDS memorial for World AIDS Day on December 1, 2021. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo/Karla Ann Cote / Alamy Stock Photo

After six consecutive years of new HIV cases declining in New York State, the number of new diagnoses statewide ticked up almost 10% in 2021 compared with one year earlier, and more than 17% on Long Island, according to data from the State Health Department.

The 2021 HIV/AIDS Surveillance report, released on the eve of World AIDS Day on Thursday, found that while the number of new HIV cases in New York decreased almost 50% in the past decade, they were up 9.8% last year, from 1,933 cases in 2020 to 2,123 in 2021.

Experts attribute the increase to many health care facilities being closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're still seeing the residual effects of the lockdown," said Dr. Joseph McGowan, medical director of Northwell Health's Center for AIDS Research and Treatment, the largest state-designated AIDS center on Long Island, with more than 2,600 patients. "People were reluctant to come into health care facilities to be tested."

In total, 104,000 New Yorkers are living with HIV or AIDS, including more than 5,300 on Long Island, the report found. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS.

While about three-quarters of all new infections are in New York City, the state reported 104 new HIV or AIDS cases in Nassau County in 2021 and 107 in Suffolk County — up from 94 and 86 cases, respectively, one year earlier, the data shows. The majority of new infections on Long Island were men with a history of male-to-male sexual contact, researchers said.

Individuals diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in the same year are counted twice, the Health Department said, potentially inflating those numbers 

More than 2,300 New Yorkers who had HIV or AIDS died in 2021, including 34 in Nassau and 59 in Suffolk, although some potentially from reasons other than the virus, the report found. About 21% of New Yorkers diagnosed with HIV also have AIDS, the report showed.

Roughly 75% of New Yorkers living with HIV are at least 40 years old but that trend seems to be shifting, the data shows, with nearly 70% of new cases occurring in individuals under age 40.

"This is a younger population that is not easy to reach, that don't access traditional venues of health care and would not be necessarily receptive to preventive services and interventions," said Joseph Kerwin, acting director of the state Health Department's AIDS Institute.

Progress has also not been equitable across racial and ethnic groups, with Black New Yorkers experiencing new cases at rates more than seven times higher than white individuals and Hispanics at four times the rate of whites, the report said.

"More of our new diagnoses are geared toward people of color," McGowan said. " … We're seeing more men. We're seeing more people of Hispanic heritage and ethnicity."

The highest number of the center's Nassau cases, he said, are in Hempstead, Westbury, Hicksville and Freeport, while in Suffolk the highest number are from Bay Shore, Central Islip, Brentwood and Huntington Station.

New York's seventh annual "Ending the Epidemic Summit" was held virtually Monday and Tuesday and focused on improving health equity in combating the virus.

During last year's summit, Gov. Kathy Hochul pledged to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2024 — defined by decreasing the rate of new infections faster than the rate of deaths among people living with HIV.

"We want to make sure that every population is achieving those goals and that those gains are all equitable," said Deepa Rajulu, director of the division of epidemiology evaluation and partner services at the AIDS Institute.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chair of the Maternal Child HIV Network at Stony Brook Medicine, said the "HIV epidemic on Long Island is under great control," in part due to effective antiretroviral medications. The network serves as Suffolk's designated center for children, adolescents, adults and pregnant women with HIV and AIDS.

"Individuals who have HIV are easily being identified," said Nachman, who doubles as chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital. "They're all getting antiretroviral medication to stop the virus from growing in their blood. And over 95% of the individuals with HIV followed here at Stony Brook have undetectable viral load … meaning it's not damaging their immune system."

The New York City Health Department// released its 2021 HIV Surveillance report Monday. The data showed 1,594 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in New York City in 2021, up 14% from 2020 but down 23% since 2017.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • After six straight years of new HIV cases declining across the state, the number of new diagnoses statewide increased almost 10% in 2021, and more than 17% on Long Island.
  • Experts attribute the uptick to many health care and testing facilities being closed during much of 2020 because of the pandemic.
  • While most new infections are in New York City, the state reported 211 new HIV or AIDS cases on Long Island in 2021, up from 180 one year earlier.
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